Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Short History of How I Became a Self-Published Hockey Romance Writer

This is Part Two of my mini-guide to self-publishing. Part One is here.

Okay, where were we? Well, I had written stories and people liked them. In fact, a few readers suggested I begin publishing my stories, but that meant hard copies, which were way too expensive. Enter the e-book tidal wave. Eleanor, another author friend, started checking out Amazon, and clued me into the fact that there were a few hockey romances there. “Check this book out, Mel. Its terrible! We should publish because our stories are better!” As a side note, she hasn’t published yet, so she’s like the friend who says “Let’s do this crazy thing!” And then lets you get into trouble first.

So I started “looking inside” a lot of book samples and later, reading quite a few books. I decided to take the plunge into self-publishing. I looked on the internet for advice and found a ton from writing blogs. One thing that authors like to do more than writing is write about writing. And if you can understand that last sentence youre already a better writer than me. Just search writing on Google and get ready to be struck by a tsunami of information.

How To Publish 
Here are my steps to self-publishing. I’m taking it for granted that you have written an excellent novel, proofed, and edited it yourself, and you think it’s ready.

1. Beta readers
You should get a few people to read your novel and give you honest feedback. Are there continuity issues? Are your characters likeable enough for the reader to root for them? Is anything missing or needed? Have you accidentally switched the name of a character mid-story? (It's happened, okay.)
When you get negative feedback, take a deep breath, say thank you, and sleep on it. Then go back and address the point that was raised. Yes, do it. Otherwise, why have a beta reader?

Cost: usually free. Your friends, significant other, or fellow writers are all prime candidates for this job. I was lucky enough to have a built-in audience from my previous serial stories.

2. Editors
Now your masterpiece is done. Or so you think. Time to get a professional on the job, the editor will be your dominatrix on the road to publishing pleasure. From what I’ve read there seem to be a zillion types of editors, but I would say they fall into two main categories: story editors and copy editors. A story editor will look at the large-scale aspects of your book: structure, character, pacing. A copy editor will examine the details by proofreading your book and correcting the grammar, spelling, punctuation, and stylistic elements. IMHO, editing is vital. I use the lovely and talented Amy Duli, who does copy editing for me. Punctuation is my Achilles heel, as well as overuse of the word, “just.” I just finished taking out that word 74 times from my latest book. Noooo, I just used it again ... oh, dang it!
Naturally, you should clean up your manuscript as much as possible before submitting it to an editor. I recently discovered this helpful blog, where two lovely Canadian (yay!) editors give advice on editing and formatting.

Cost: well, obviously depends on the editor’s experience and the length & state of your book. $200 - $1000 would be a rough range for an average book. 

3. Formatting
Okay, with your polished novel in your hot little hands, now what? Since so many gazillions of books have been published on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple, etc., it must be easy, right? Nope, uploading your manuscript is a tricky process, as all readers of ebooks know. Who hasn’t experienced odd gaps and spacing in an ebook, or an un-navigable Table of Contents? Or perhaps even a book that won’t open. All these problems have to do with formatting. Formatting is the process of converting the text of your book to a MOBI or EPUB format so it can be read by ereaders. Now, I only have experience with Amazon so far, and while the process is improving it’s still tricky.
You have two choices: do it on your own or get an expert. It is very doable to do this yourself, especially if you have a little familiarity with HTML, but more complicated than I can explain here. I did both of my books myself and I would recommend the sites and blogs below for more detailed instructions.

It takes a lot of time though, not just to proof your book but to try it out on as many platforms as possible (Kindle Previewer, Nook, Kobo, iPad) to make sure it’s readable since nobody will ever tell you if it’s broken. They’ll just return your book, and returns are the sad-making nadir of an author’s day. Just asked someone who sold 6 books in Germany and had 5 returned. Meine Güte!

Your second choice is to have it done, but then you have two further choices. One, you can use an expert. I recommend Jaye Manus, who has been helping me with my more recent books and gives tons of advice in her blog on how to do it yourself. If you want to do it yourself, read her blog for help first. Again, the cost will depend on the length of your book and its complexity (illustrations, graphs, etc.) She will send you back a perfectly formatted book which you then upload and list on Amazon, Kobo, etc. 

Or you can use a service called Draft2Digital, they will format and upload your book for a commission of 10% - 15%. Obviously, you have to make a guess on how much money you’re going to make. The more sales you think you’ll make, the less you’ll want to give away 10% in perpetuity. Hint: your first book is probably not going to make that many sales.
The good side to paying a formatter is that you can spend more time writing and less time tearing your hair out over formatting issues.
Cost: Free to several hundred.

4. Cover
Your book’s cover can be done at any time in the process. You want it to communicate what the book is about to prospective readers Despite the old proverb, readers do judge a book by its cover. Again, you can choose to hire an expert or do it yourself.

If you want to hire a cover designer, there are tons out there so you want to make sure you get one who understands ebooks. For example the Amazon image is pretty small so tiny type won’t fly.  This blog post lists ten recommended cover sites. If I had a ton of money, I’d just hire the #1 site listed: Damonza. It’s $400 but his covers look great. I’ll warn you though, if you do check out his site, you’ll get his ads for months afterwards whenever you surf the net. If you want to buy a good cover, but not pay too much money, you could checking out fivver (covers for $5! Can this be real? I’ve never used it, but it seems worth a look.) Or check out premade covers, the ones on #7 from the blog post, ebookinidecovers, look pretty good to me and cost only about $50. Another similarly-priced source is Go On Write.

If you want to do it yourself, and you don’t have any experience in design, you shouldn’t. Just kidding, but at the minimum you should study some good designs first and get a qualified friend to look over your finished product. Here’s one fun way to see what’s good in covers, Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer does ebook cover awards every month. After you’ve looked at his comments, you get a good sense of what is right and wrong with covers. I find the bad covers pretty amusing. But then, I stop and look at accident scenes too.

I did my covers myself, and maybe you can tell. It’s my theory that if I went to the traditional bare-chested man and woman embracing, I would probably sell more books. Two problems though. First off, a realistic portrayal of Jake’s Gumby torso is not selling books. And second, I like my covers. I like their fresh look because it communicates all the information I want: not a typical romance, hockey, a little chick-lit, and contemporary. Still, after seeing the ebook Cover Awards, I may still bump up the font.
Cost: Free to $400

5. Promotion
Well, I’m probably not the best person to ask about promotion. I don’t do a ton, because I need to prioritize my time and I think that writing the next amazing book is the best way to succeed. But it certainly helps to have your book reviewed on popular blogs and promoted on social media. Having a facebook page, a blog, twitter, etc. are all ways to promote yourself as an author. You can also get an author’s page on Goodreads once your book is published, and join in the discussions there. You can do book launches, online parties etc. Knowing other authors in your genre is a good idea, you can do blog hops, cross-promote, and support each other. There are many book promoters out there who would love to help you, for a fee of course. 
That’s all I’ve got, but these ladies have more for you.
Cost: Free to sky's-the-limit

And finally, a couple of general self-publishing resources: 
I do check out the sub-Reddit on Self Publishing . I have to confess that Reddit is a bit scary for me, I had my comment history stalked by some loser, so I removed my profile permanently and now I merely creep the page for information. This sub-Reddit is quite practical and helpful. 

Lots of writers recommend the KDP/Kindle Author boards for information, but I find them too thin on actual facts and too heavy on self-promotion.

My final word of advice: ask for help and take all you can get. Don’t be sensitive or defensive about your work, use the suggestions you get, and you’ll keep improving.

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